Vaccine rush to startup buzz on TiE Global Summit platter


From startups to vaccines, sessions at the TiE Global Summit, billed as the world’s largest event for entrepreneurs, are discussing it all.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal made a pitch for India’s national capital region as the buzzing startup foundation while KI Varaprasad Reddy, founder of vaccine manufacturing company Shantha Biotechnics, cautioned against the rush to find a vaccine for Covid-19.

Delhi will be the destination for startups India’s country’s national capital region (NCR) has the highest number of active startups in the country, Kejriwal said.

He was addressing a session on ‘Making Delhi a Global Startup Destination.’

Kejriwal said the NCR has the 7,000 active startups, the highest India, with a combined valuation of $50 billion.

Delhi has 13 unicorns, such as Zomato, PayTM and Oyo, and the city is adding one unicorn each year since 2013, he shared.

In the first six months of this year 109 startups were founded in Delhi, he said.

He acknowledged that like many businesses startups too were suffering due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I am sure we will all bounce back strongly,” Kejriwal said. “Startups face different kind of challenges. We will come out with a new start up policy to encourage and facilitate startups.”

In another session, KI Varaprasad Reddy, founder of Shantha Biotechnics, spoke on ‘Covid-19 Vaccine: How Soon is Soon? Is There an Alternative?’

Reddy threw up numerous questions for which answers were still not known — on vaccine safety, efficacy, storage, dispersion, training, side-effects, costs, who is going to foot the bill, and much more.

Earlier, the worry was about Covid but now we have so many more things to find answers to. The vaccines are around the corner and we don’t know about them and how we will go about delivering it to the masses,” he said.

Everyone is talking about a two dosage vaccine. So India will need 2.6 billion dosages! 15 percent wastage is normal and that leaves us with a humongous number of 3 billion vaccine doses. In this kind of situation, a different kind of emergency arises too… hoarding, black marketing, counterfeit, etc. Can the five, six companies come up with 3 billion doses in a years’ time is another unanswered question,” he said.

He lamented that the scientists are under pressure to come up with a vaccine.

In earlier times, we used to wait and study the medicines for a long time going through different stages of trails and scientific evaluation,” he said.

On Covid-19 vaccines, Reddy said that there is no publication of data on clinical trials in scientific journals and its review.

All we know is coming is just coming through news reports,” he said.

Hasty statements by the Indian Council of Medical Research and political leaders on vaccines coming in August, etc, are a great disservice to the public, said Reddy.

We are in a confusing time with no answers to several factors. Only time will answer the questions. We are operating in an emergency mode.”

But will safety be the first casualty in these confusing times, he questioned.

There is no vigorous scientific evaluation of the vaccine, he said.

The 1918 Influenza vaccine came after nearly 22 years in the 1940s. Ebola vaccine took five and a half years, TB took 13 years, and chickenpox vaccine took 22 years. Perhaps, the shortest time taken to develop a vaccine was for mumps… four years. Today we are rushing our scientists, the development may have picked up the pace but there is no vigorous scientific evaluation,” Reddy said.

The regulatory system is missing. We are fast-forwarding phase trials to phase trials.”

Regulatory authorities should look into that, he opined.

He was of the opinion that vaccines will come only by the middle of the next year.

The latest will be by April but not before that,” he said, adding that Shantha Biotechnics’ vaccine for Covid-19 will be out by the end of next year only.

Vaccines are for saving lives and should not be rushed. We are cutting corners but I hope that we are not cutting lives,” Reddy said.